Celtic Goddesses & Women of Prophecy: Velonsae, Fedelm, Veleda & the Gaulish Sorceresses, the Uidlua

Yarn magic, sorcery and prophecy are all words rooted in an ancient Celto-Germanic Indo-European linguistic change. This change is believed to have happened in the early Bronze Age before there even was a proto-Celtic language. (For more information especially about the archeological evidence connecting the proto-Celtic people in Spain and the proto-Germanic people in Scandinavia, please click here.) In this change, the proto-Indo-European word for “yarn, string” became the Celtic root for sorcery, while for the Germanic peoples it eventually became the word seidR.

We know that the Germanic tribes believed some women had psychic prophetic powers. Thiota of the Alemannic-Frankish people, the Semnones’ seeress Ganna, and Waluburg who went with German soldiers to Egypt are documented by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. In the 5th century the Christian Goths blamed the Huns on the Haliarunnos, their Pagan wise women who consulted the dead. This is similar to the work of a volva in the Icelandic sagas when she performed seidR, holding her staff. Ganna and Waluburg come from Germanic words for “wand” and may have been titles like volva.

The Romans recorded that Veleda was a Bructerian priestess who prophesied during a Germanic and Gaulish rebellion against Roman rule. Veleda was assumed by many to speak a Germanic language, but further investigation points to a Celtic name. Until the Romans decided that everyone living northwest of the Rhine was Germanic speaking and everyone to the southwest of the Rhine was Gaulish and then attempted to reinforce that, in reality tribes could have spoken either, both or even possibly a unique combination of the languages. The Belgae region (roughly in the area of and around modern Belgium) was most likely Celto-Germanic Iron Age mix, with the Celtic name Belgae meaning “swelling with battle rage.” In dress, lifestyle and housing there was little difference between the two. A German tribe is known to have helped a Gaulish ally in their battles against another Gaulish tribe, and it probably wasn’t that unusual for temporary alliances to have been made. We find this in the rebellion against the Roman Empire, guided by Veleda. Although the rebellion failed, Veleda is supposed to have impressed the Romans so much that she was brought to Rome. (Veleda is pronounced more like Weleda.)

The Romans assumed Veleda was a personal name, but it is linguistically connected with the Old Irish title velet or fili, “bard, poet,” the Welsh gweled, “seer,” and the Gaulish uidlua, “sorceress.” Modern Gaulish Reconstuctionist Segomâros Widugeni uses the term welitâ, a “female mystic associated with seership and the sovereignty complex” who “Carried the Weaver’s Beam as a badge of office.” Gifts from the bride to the groom of expertly woven fabrics were an important part of the Hallstatt and later Gaulish marriage ceremonies. The Celtic king-making ceremony is believed to have involved a symbolic marriage to a high ranking woman who offered him ale or mead. The woman represented the sovereignty of the land and was most likely a file or welitâ, depending on where in the vast Celtic-speaking world the ceremony took place.

This nicely brings us to the seeress in the great Irish saga Tain Bo Cuailnge, Fedelm Noíchrothach (“nine times beautiful”). Because her name appears between other Goddesses’ names such as Macha, some believe that Fedelm was originally considered a Goddess. Fedelm makes Her appearance when Queen Medb (a Gaelic sovereignty Goddess of intoxication) is about to leave with Her army. She arrives wearing red in a chariot drawn by two black horses, described as a beautiful young woman with three braids, two coiled on her head and another hanging to her calves. Each eye has three pupils. She holds a gold weaver’s beam, an object commonly associated with fate in Indo-European mythology. Some scholars believe her name is linguisticly linked to Veleda.

Another Goddess linked to Veleda is the Celtiberian Velonsae whose name refers to a strong will, command, and prophecy. Three Germanic Suebic military leaders are known to have had Celtic names associated with the same Celtic word for “command” found in Velonsae. Again we are reminded of the interconnected history of the Celtic and Germanic speaking peoples. Velonsae also has linguistic connections to the Old Irish word file (poet-seer), which connect Her to Fedelm. Velonsae is one of the few Celtic Goddesses known to be directly involved with fate and prophecy, and I am surprised that She is not worshiped more widely, especially by those involved with divination and the psychic arts.

The Uidlua are less well known. They were a a group of Gaulish women who had the help of a sorceress named Severa Tertionicna in a legal dispute. We know this from a curse tablet where the plaintiff asks a Goddess to reverse Severa’s magic so he can finally in court win against the Uidlua. Severa Tertionicna used yarn in her spell, another connection to the weaving. The names of the Uidlua are listed, but as the daughters of mothers, not fathers, which is very unusual for Gauls. Their “mothers” may have really been their sorceress teachers, because three Uidlua had the same “mother.”

While we find triads of Celtic Goddesses like the Matres, the Morrigan and Brig, there’s no explicitly stated three Celtic destiny Goddesses like the Norse Norns and Roman Fates in what we know of Celtic deities. (The Morrigan, Macha and Badb are involved in battle prophecy and magic to influence the outcome, which seems to be a version of the triple destiny Goddesses, especially with Badb‘s similarity to Lugh, the oath God who possibly declared the futures of people.) Still, we find likely fate Goddesses in Fedelm, Velonsae, Rosmerta and a Gaelic Christian mention of the 7* sisters of fate. History records other Celtic female seers and yarn sorceresses, like the Scottish and Manx “witches” who sold sailors strings with knots which, when untied, would release the wind. The highest level of the file, the ollamh, was trained in magical arts, a highly prestigious rank achieved by Ullach, daughter of Muinechan, who died in 934. She was called Banfile Eireann, “The Woman Poet of Ireland”. Add the Gaulish island of Sena where female oracles who, when possessed by the deity, foretold a person’s future, and we find a long history of prophetesses and yarn sorceresses in Celtic lands.

*(While 3 was the most significant number in Indo-European culture, 7 was the sacred number for the Near East due to the seven “planets” who correspond with the Sumerian deities. The importance of 7 became part of the Old Testament and Christianity.)

 

Bibliography

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Hugh, Cristof and Mokina Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, Connecting Elites and Regions: Perspectives on contacts, relations, and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northeast and Central Europe, Robert Schumann and Sasja van du Vaar- Verschoof (eds), University Hamberg (2017)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel, The History of Pagan Europe.

Khilhaug, Maria, The Maiden with the Mead, Masters thesis, University of Oslo (spring 2004)

Price MacLeod, Sharon, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Beliefs with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs. McFarland Press (2012)

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015)

Widugeni, Segomâros, Ancient Fire: An Introduction to Gaulish Celtic Polytheism. ADF Publishing (2018) Where was this book 20 years ago? Hey, for the total beginner, it’s here now!

Celtic Festival of Dies Equeunu and the Alci

Alci Alexandra Rena
The Alci sketch by Alexandra Rena

This continues my modern Reconstruction-derived practice of interpreting Roman holy days in a Gaulish, Iberian, trans-Alpine Celtic manner. Erudinus is the only ancient Celtic deity for whom we have a Celtic festival date, so for the rest, I’m trying what some ancient Celtic language speaking tribes may have done: match a native deity with a Roman one.

Researchers now tend to believe that the conquered Celtic peoples often chose what parts of Roman religion to take, even choosing the Roman God for the correspondence, which is perhaps why many Celtic Gods are linked to Mars in one inscription and Mercury in another. The official Roman pantheon really doesn’t match the tribal deities of the different Celtic peoples. To the Gauls, Mercury, who was not very popular among most Romans,  was considered far more important than Jupiter. Mercury had the strength of communication, wealth and safe travels. Mars was the protector. Together They met the requirements for a good chieftain. As the Gauls rejected attempts by nobles to unify different tribes and form a permanent empire, a “top God” like Jupiter was not traditional.

Relevant parts of Roman religion was adopted and sometimes a self-conscious nostalgia for their own almost forgotten ways was revitalized. The latter seems to be especially true for the Britons, based on Folly Lane. (What’s that? You don’t know what is at Folly Lane and what it says about how Britons were adapting and reacting to Roman religion? Maybe you should buy a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and find out! Shameless plug for a great cause!)

On February 27 the Romans held a festival celebrating the birth of the Greek Castor and Pollox, the horse riding sons of Zeus, also known as “dioskouri”. They have a beautiful myth of self sacrifice which is related to the meaning of the astrological sign Gemini, according to East. “Castor was born mortal. Pollux was born immortal. When Castor was slain in battle, Pollux was inconsolable in his grief. He begged Zeus to relieve him of the bonds of immortality and allow him to die along side his brother. Zeus refused. And yet, in his wisdom, Zeus solved Pollux’s pain by granting Castor immortality as well.” Also, according to Brady, “Castor was connected to the morning star and was the horseman; Pollux, the boxer, was connected to the evening star and was associated with darkness.”

Castor and Pollox were very popular with the Gauls. The proto-Indo-European twin “Sons of God” survived not only in Greece and Rome, but in many cultures. They often are associated with a solar or mare (or both) Goddess who may be Their mother, wife, or both. The mother of Castor and Pollox is a mare in some myths and are the companions of the Sun. The Aśvins (“Horsemen”) are Vedic heroes, physicians and perhaps the evening and morning star (Venus) always found with the Sun, whose daughter Sūryā is Their wife. The Lithuanian Dieva Deli (“Sons of God”) travel the sky as horses with Their sister Saules Dukterys (“Daughter of the Sun”) whom They court romantically. The legendary brothers who led the Angles, Jutes and Saxons’ invasion of Britain, Hengist (“stallion”) and Horsa (“horseman”), may also have Their roots here.

It’s very odd that the famous horse riding Celts don’t have any horse twin hero Gods. Of course, the ancient mare Goddess Macha gives birth to twins after being forced to race the King of Ulster’s horses. (A race She won.) The greatest Irish hero Cu Chulainn in His earliest tales was born with a colt. The Mabinogi states that mare Goddess Rhiannon‘s son Pryderi was found as a newborn with a mare who just gave birth to a colt. Although these medieval hints suggest that there were ancient Celtic twin horse hero Gods, until recently Their names were unknown.

Then, an inscription was recovered in Pola de Gordón, León, to Dies Equeunu (pronounced: Dee-ess eh-QUEE-hu-nu), “the sons riding on the horse”. That’s about the clearest title for these deities as you can get! Notice that They ride one horse. More details are found in Iberia and Gaul, but with Their other title, the Alci.

Here’s what Tacitus wrote in Germania: “Among the Nahanarvali is shown a grove, the seat of a prehistoric ritual: a priest presides in female dress; but according to the Roman interpretation the gods recorded in this fashion are Castor and Pollux: that at least is the spirit of the godhead here recognised, whose name is the Alci (nomen Alcis). …they worship these dęities as brothers and as youths.”

There are Gaulish personal names like Alcovindos, meaning “white like the Alci” and place names like Alcobendas near Madrid, meaning “hills of the Alci.” Obviously, the “the sons riding on the horse” have something to do with being white. Guides to the Celtic realm of the dead ride white horses, like the Mabinogi‘s Arawn, Gwyn ap Nudd, and the Gaelic Donn. Gwyn and Fionn mean “white,” so we can pretty safely guess that Their horse is white. If They are associated with the Sun or Venus, white could possibly be connected to radiance. However, we don’t have any evidence linking Them to either.

“Hey! The Alci are German Gods, Heather! Now I doubt your entire blog and book!” No! Wait! Please, there’s fancy linguistic proof! Also, when the Germanic tribes migrated into a Roman Celtic world, the Germanic languages absorbed many Celtic words. And remember that Celtic people over a wide area were naming their children and places after the Alci.

The fancy linguistic proof: Take the Indo-European word Palkio, meaning “divine twins” and do the usual Celtic drop of the first letter “p”.  We get the Celtic “divine twins” – Alkio. Then, the logic goes, the Alci is a Celtic name for the divine twins. This is why we can learn so much about a deity by Their name, which often is a title.

We know that the Romans often were wrong about what tribes were of which culture. Despite their map showing that the Germanic tribes lived north of the Rhine and Gauls lived south of the important trade river, it was never that simple. The Belgae region seems to be Celto-Germanic, a merging of established Gaulish peoples and recent Germanic emigrants. According to Tacitus, in the 1st century CE the People of Ingvi-Frey, the Ingvaeones, had settled the area around and including Denmark. Also, early records of Germanic tribes mention leaders who had Celtic names. A few scholars think that there may have been a Celtic elite who ruled over some of the North Sea tribes. Before Denmark’s coastline drastically changed a few centuries before the German migrations, these Celtic tribes may have made southern Sweden a satellite state. If Celts were worshiping the Alci in Denmark then, the Germanic people may have learned about the Alci then, if Germanic tribes ever did.

Also, we now have a lot of linguistic and physical evidence that during the Bronze Age people in southern Sweden and coastal northern Spain were trading goods and culture. The Scandinavian petroglyphs and Iberian stele of that time depict almost startling exact images of wagons and warriors. Scandinavian amber has been recovered in Greece, increasing the range of the Bronze Age trading region. The Phoenicians built the first city in Iberia in the 9th century BCE on Spain’s Atlantic coast, being the first people to trade in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast. The proto-Celtic Atlantic Seacoast Culture spread from the Straits of Gibraltar to Scotland, but some evidence may show trade with Sweden. This could be another way the Celtic word arrived in a  Germanic language – again, if the Alci ever were worshiped by Germanic tribes.

Prayer to Dies Equeunu for Fast Rescue Heather Awen 

O Dies Equeunu,
Please hear my prayer!
I am in trouble,
I need fast help,
I need the Divine Twins!
Please, quickly ride into this situation,
Stop the crisis,
Save my life, save our lives,
Save us!
Time is of the utmost importance,
Lives are at risk!
Dies Equeunu, you are Gods of heroes
And I need you here now!

 

Bibliography

Brady, Bernadette, Brady’s Book of fixed Stars. Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1998)

Cultraro, Massimo, Evidence of Amber in Bronze Age Sicliy: Local Sources and the Balkan-Mycenaean Connection. Eds. Galanaki, Tomas, Galanakis, Laffineur. Aegaeum 27, Between the Aegean and Baltic Coasts Prehistory Across Borders

Cunliffe, Barry, On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from Prehistory to AD 1500. Oxford University Press (2017)

Danka, Ignacy Ryszard & Witczak, Krzysztof Tomasz, DEIS EQLTL\LBO The Divinę Twins in Asturia, Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Language, Piotr Stalmaszczyk & Maxim Fomin (eds) (2009)

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

East, Sonrisa, Where Alpha Meets Omega: Mythology of the Constellations, Space Exploration & Astrology. (2019)

Fortson, Benjamin W., Indo-european Language and Culture: an introduction— 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell (2010)

Gibson, Catriona and John Koch, Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Iberia and the British Isles 2800-800 BC, CELTIC FROM THE WEST 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe (eds), Oxbow Books (2013)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Koch, John T, Celtic origins reconsidered in the light of the ‘archaeogenetics revolution’ (2018)

Koch, John T, Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

Jones, Mary (ed), Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/jce_index.html

Ling, Johan & Koch, John, A sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Giving the past a future: Essays in Archaeology and Rock Art Studies in honour of Dr. Phil Gerhard Milstreu, Dodd & Meijer (eds), 2018

Manco, Jean, Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Ventures to the Vikings, 2nd ed. Thames & Hudson (2015)

Mierzwick, Tony, Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today. Llewellyn (2018)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Noyer, Rolf, PIE Dieties and the Sacred, Proto-Indo-European Language and Society

Price MacLeod, Sharon, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Beliefs with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs. McFarland Press (2012)

Sacred Texts Celtic, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/index.htm

Serith, Ceisiwr, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Druidry (2007)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Swami Achuthanada, The Reign of the Vedic Gods. Relianz Communications Pty Ltd (2018)

Tacitus, Germania

Waddell, John, Equine Cults and Celtic Goddesses, EMANIA Bulletin of the Navan Research Group (2018)

The Bronze Age Celto-Germanic Linguistic & Archeological Link: Spain and Scandinavia?

Lots of research is being done on the Celto-Germanic words that appear to have developed between Norse sailors trading amber with Celtic coastal Iberian sailors who had copper during the Bronze Age. Iberian Celts with their many Celtic languages may have been influential in the creation of the Celtic languages.

These words are thought to have originated about 4,000 years ago around the Czech Republic. They link directly to Nerthus, Macha, Nemed, Babd and the new interpretation of the root of Freya‘s and Frey‘s names, “free people, friends” (as opposed to slaves). Priya no longer meant beloved. There’s evidence of the Celto-Germanic shared culture along the northern Atlantic coast.

A pre-Celtic culture spread along the Atlantic coast from the Pillars of Hercules (Straight of Gibraltar) to Scotland, with similar tomb design and decorations. There’s a 6th century BCE inscription to Lug (Lugus) written in Phoenician script from the southwest coast of Portugal. Iberian Celts lived in a cattle-based hillfort culture very similar to Ireland’s in some places, and large walled cities like the Gauls in others. Some evidence shows that there were more Celtic settlements in Iberia than France. Deities Lugus and Epona were very popular.

And it’s where the newest discoveries are being made, totally changing our ideas about the history of the wide diversity of Celtic peoples. If you aren’t paying attention to Iberia, you’re missing out on the “new Celtic history.”

 

Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available directly from Gullveig Press at a lower price than at Amazon. All proceeds go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans. We have special bulk order and prison clergy/ volunteer prices and Australian discounts, as Amazon Australia does not carry the book. We will happily buy a prisoner a copy if you donate $12 U.S.! And remember to donate used paperbacks on almost any topic to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners ability to read per book!

 

Bibliography

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Koch, John T., Rock art and Celto-Germanic vocabulary: Shared iconography and words as reflections of Bronze Age contact, Adoranten (2018)

Celtic Festival Calender: Mercuralia & Lugus

rosmerta_watermark AlexandraRena
Rosmerta by Alexandra Rena

As Celtic people conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I have begun  using the Roman calender as a guide for when to honor Celtic deities. There’s no real way to make direct correlation between the two pantheons; Celtic Gods tend to be tribal hero kings (and possibly first ancestors) who are great at everything, and Celtic Goddesses often hold power over the fertility and death of the tribe’s land, water, livestock and human members, especially the king. However, to unify the Empire, other peoples’ deities were called by Roman names much like the Greeks once did. It’s now thought that the Celts had more power in deciding what Roman deity to choose than formerly believed. The Celts transformed aspects of Roman religion to fit their own cosmology and over the course of a few generations new versions of Celtic religion appeared.

Whether or not any Celtic people worshiped their tribal deities on dates of Roman Festivals then, Celtic polytheism is still adapting. Most Celts would have known the deities of their tribe and (if in one) their larger federation. These were personal, connected to place and ancestry, and a large part of one’s identity. Today we don’t know a lot about the majority of Celtic deities (although we have over 400 names), but most modern Celtic polytheists have their own pantheons of a larger geographical region and period of time. Even a Gaelic polytheist worshiping the Tuatha De Danann is doing something quite modern, as tribes worshiped the deities of their territory of Ireland. It was one way tribes in power stayed in power, until big changes in the ruling tribes led to adopting Saints to justify their new power.

The Roman calendar is an easy way to plan rituals for those Gaulish, Iberian and Brythonic deities who were matched with a Roman deity. I began this with the most popular Celtic God most people have never heard of, Telesphorus; then Lenus, Neto, Rudianos, Cocidius, and Nemetona March 1st; and last month Ataegina and Erecura. The only Celtic deity known to have His own Celtic Festival is Erudinus of northern Spain, but I have found matches for Ogma and Ogmios, the smith deities and the “native” VenusSirona, Sulis, Andraste, Brigantia, GrannusAbnoba and the Celtic understanding of Diana.

On May 15, or the full moon of May, Roman merchants honored the God Mercury with the Mercuralia festival. An interesting thing about Mercury is that the Gauls worshiped Him even more ardently than the Romans. He was easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular, deities in Gaul. He was sometimes associated with a Celtic God, but in general the Gauls embraced Him as Himself.

There are records of Gaulish merchants hiring Roman artisans to make large statues of Mercury. It may be that these merchants brought the cult to their own communities. How Mercury was understood and worshiped at this time would have probably been a very Gaulish way. Some knowledge of the God didn’t mean that the merchant had a great wealth of information about Roman religious practices or mythology. Mercury was most likely growing into a Gallic deity while around them the world of the Gauls grew more Roman. Gaul was thriving with import-export business, and tribes who controlled major rivers were in a powerful position. Trade with Britain was not new, as goods crossed the Channel to and from southeast England to the Rhine River. The Romans built cities like London and their famous roads which made markets and transportation to other parts of Britain (including troops stationed at Hadrian’s Wall) much easier. One reason why Julius Caesar was so eager to conquer Gaul was to get their precious metal mines. Celtic fabric quickly became popular in Rome.

Mercury as the God of not only commerce but also transportation, was the backbone of the strength of Gaul. Yet, to the Romans, He was generally viewed as primarily the messenger of the deities.

Most scholars associate Mercury with Lug/ Lugus, who was widely worshiped by many Celtic peoples: the Celtiberians, the Luggones of Spain, the Gauls, the Gaels, and the Britons. The oldest mention of Lug is from a 6th century BCE engraving written in a Celtic language using Phoenician letters discovered in Southwest Portugal. His worship stayed very strong in Iberia.

Lug and Odin seem to have an ancient connection, going back perhaps 4,000 years to a group of Indo-European people possibly in or near the Czech Republic who would later become the Germans and the Celts. Currently, archeological evidence of Bronze Age Scandinavia and Celtic Iberia and the Celto-Germanic language is being studied by scholars such as John T Koch to prove the ancient shared roots. To learn more read here.

Linguistically the two Gods have quite a lot in common at this point from the spear to having or closing one eye. Also Lug’s mythology from Ireland and Wales (as Lugh and Lleu) has strong connections with myths about Odin, such as taking eagle form. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Lleu (1)
Lleu as a dying eagle.

Starting with Lugus (pronounced “LOO-guss”), His companion Rosmerta and another Celtic deity associated with Mercury named Cissonius (pronounced: kiss-SOH-nee-us) the carriage driver are described. As we don’t have much information about the Mercuralia, use your imagination while working with knowledge of Celtic ritual.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Lugus was worshiped by the Gauls but rarely by that name. When first describing the deities of the Gauls, Julius Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico that the Roman God Mercury was their most important God. (When the Romans wrote about other peoples’ deities they used the names of the Roman ones that best matched the local deities. It helped hold a multicultural society together.) Important Lugus became so strongly associated with the Roman God Mercury that Mercury actually did become the most popular deity for the Roman Gaulish people! Mercury rules over trade, travel, communication and commerce, plus he invented the arts. The Southern Gauls actually had accepted Hermes, the earlier Greek version of Mercury, into their culture centuries before Caesar visited, so in a way Mercury was not really a new God to those Gauls.

“Some Gaulish Mercury statues showed him with three faces (which happens with other Gaulish Gods, signifying great strength) and three phalluses. Sometimes he is portrayed bearded and older than the Roman Mercury. Armed with a spear, he was often with the Celtic Goddess Rosmerta. His symbols are a herald’s staff and a money-bag; his animal familiars are goats, sheep and roosters, all of which became new popular animal sacrifices. He sometimes appears with the horned serpent, normally associated with Cernunnos.

“His name is found in Western European city names: Lugdunum (“fort of Lugus”), which was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (today Lyon, France); Carlisle, England, which was once Luguvalium; Loudoun in Scotland; Leiden in the Netherlands; Dinlleu in Wales; Lothian in Scotland; and Lugones in Spain. That was once in the territory of the Luggones, one of the 21 tribes of Asturians. There are many personal names linked to Lugus. One is Llewellyn. His own name, however, is rarely written down, even with Mercury. Some scholars believe that the many places with “his name” were really just “brilliant.” His name also may be connected to “oath,” such as putting an oath of destiny on someone. (“I swear you will….”)

“Lugus was also popular with the Celtiberians, especially in the mountains. Three inscriptions of a plural version of his name, the Lugoves, were found in Spain. One inscription, “L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers,” interests many scholars because the Brythonic God Lleu in the Mabinogi was a shoemaker. Lleu and the Gaelic Lugh, who has all the skills, are believed to be connected with Lugus.

“The Gaulish Mercury had mountain tops dedicated to him. They were called Mercurii Montes and included Montmartre, the Puy de Dôme, and the Mont de Sène.”

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Rosmerta (“the Great Provider”) is the Celtic companion of the Roman God Mercury. Celtic religion required the pairing of a God with a Goddess, but they did not have to be married. Rosmerta, being older, may have been considered Mercury’s mother. She is a mature Goddess who was worshiped in all the Celtic lands in the Roman Empire, being most popular in northern and eastern Gaul. She shared Mercury’s symbols – a winged staff with snakes, a purse, a winged diadem (instead of his winged hat), a rooster or ram – but she also held cornucopias and offering dishes. Her dress is modest and her face serious. She may have a connection to prophecy, but her worshipers knew her best as the provider of material well-being.”

(Viducus Brigantici filius has a beautiful monthly ritual honoring Rosmerta in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.)

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Cissonius is a Gaulish God of trade and protecting travelers. Cissonius was the second most common name for the Gaulish Mercury. In Switzerland, southern Germany and France 17 inscriptions of his name have been found. Cissonius had two different forms. One was typical of Mercury: the young man with the winged helmet and staff. The other was as a man with a beard wearing a helmet who rode a ram while carrying a cup of wine.”

Senobessus Bolgon offers more on the role of Cissonius in Gaulish Reconstructionist Paganism, as well as another deity commonly associated with Mercury, Visucius.

I personally wonder about the influence of Hermes on the Gaulish understanding of Mercury. Early writing about the Celts said they were master magi, nearly obsessed with magic, and Hermes has a strong history as a God of magic. Sorcerer (and master of everything else worth doing) Lugh performs the one eye Crane Position. Lleu is the maternal nephew (or son) of the greatest sorcerer of Wales Gwydion, Himself the maternal nephew of Math, King of Gwynedd and another fabulous magician.

More on Lugh here.

 

Selected Bibliography

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Ewing, John Thor, The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts, Sinsear 8, University College Dublin (1995)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Rhys, John, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. Oxford University Press (1901)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

Offerings at Trier: Belgae and Beads (& Gaulish and Norse/Germanic Deities) PHOTOS

Nemetona by Alexandra Rena

My far-too-talented friend, artist Alexandra Rena (check out her commissioned image of Freya!), recently visited friends and family in Scandinavia and Germany, which allowed me to send her a parcel of offerings to be made in my name! She was hitting a lot of important “hot spots” for a Celtic and Germanic polytheist, so I created packets of glass and metal beads for my ancestors and deities of each place she went. In traditional fashion, she tossed them into rivers or the North or Baltic Seas. 

The western German city Trier  (located near Luxembourg) is an important site for Gaulish (and Roman) Pagans. The city was named for the Belgic tribe the Treveri, which probably means “the ferrymen.” The Treveri settled along the important trade river the Moselle and had a Goddess of the ford, RitonaThe lands of the Treveri were large, especially because at least two neighboring tribes were their clients. The Romans recorded they were originally from Germania but moved south. (Later possible meanings of that will be discussed.) For a tribe outside of the Roman Empire, they had quite a lot of Roman luxury goods. They joined Gaulish tribes in rebellions against the Roman Empire, but by the 4th century C.E. Trier was one of the most important of the Roman Empire’s cities. The temple complex that will be described is from the Roman Era. 

The Belgae are “the people swollen (with battle rage)” and somewhat of a mystery to historians. They’re neither quite Gaulish nor German. Julius Caesar wrote that out of the Gauls, Aquitanians, and Belgic people, the Belgae were: 

 “the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war”. 

Strabo disagreed, writing that the Gauls and Belgae had basically the same government, language and culture. Some scholars believe that “German origin” was not about German culture or language, but as a way of stating that the tribe hadn’t become familiar with Roman luxury goods. German simply meant that they continued to live as the Gauls had before contact with Rome, as the cultures were very alike. (Later a different Roman would write about the eastern Germans, stating that they were like the Celts before Romanization.) 

The Romans created the Rhine River as the official German/Gaulish border after decades of both tribes freely crossing the Rhine, so place does not help us decide what language was spoken. One theory is that they had their own Indo-European language, which quickly became crowded out by Gaulish and German. At least the Belgae leaders spoke Gaulish, as recorded place and personal names are Gaulish. In some places, tribal members must have also spoken a Germanic language, because occasionally Germanic tribes supplied soldiers to Gaulish allies battling other Gaulish tribes. There’s evidence of a Belgic tribe keeping a British tribe as a client state, becoming an actual Belgae settlement in southeast Britain. (Somehow the word for a territory of tribes became the name of one tribe called the Belgae on maps of Britain.) Some of these Belgae may have settled Ireland, remembered in different legends and myth such as the Fir Bolg according to one theory. 

Caesar also recorded:

“When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers [i.e. as far as we can remember], when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories; the effect of which was, that, from the recollection of those events, they assumed to themselves great authority and haughtiness in military matters.”

This is interesting for many reasons. One that stands out to me is that at least one of the leaders of the Cimbri had a Gaulish name, Boiorix, connected to the huge and powerful Gaulish Boii tribe. This can be seen with other early German tribes, implying that some German tribes may have had a Celtic elite briefly ruling them, even on the North Sea. 

One Belgae tribe, dubbed the most ferocious warriors by Julius Caesar, never drank alcohol because true courage requires sobriety. I like to note this because many believe that these peoples, including Pagans reenacting them, were drunken louts. This knowledge could be worked into any Celtic or Germanic Pagan’s alcohol and drug recovery. It’s true that alcohol is “liquid courage” and as Jonathan Richmond sang about stoners in the early 70s proto-punk band the Modern Lovers “If these guys are so great, why can’t they take this world and take it straight?”

So with the Belgae, we had a Gallic-Germanic territory, which possibly was a mixture of the two cultures (who weren’t that different to begin with). The Alci, mistakenly recorded by the Romans as Germanic North Sea horse deities, are actually a Celtic title for the twin horse boys who are found in Celtiberia as well. Along the North Sea lived one of the three original Germanic people, the Ingvaeones, the People of Ingwaz (Frey). According to Tacitus, the Roman writer from whom we know the most about German tribes:

“In ancient lays, their only type of historical tradition, they celebrate Tuisto, a god brought forth from the earth. They attribute to him a son, Mannus, the source and founder of their people, and to Mannus three sons, from whose names those nearest the Ocean are called Ingvaeones, those in the middle Herminones, and the rest Istvaeones.” 

The Herminones are thought to be the People of Odin, as in Norse Irmin is a common by-name for Odin. This would fit with the Prose Edda hinting that Odin came from Germany, and moved north to where the Ingvaeones would have lived before His cultus arrived in Sweden. The third son of Mannus is unknown, but he’d have been the tribal God of the Istvaeones. This gives us a good understanding of where the Vanir deities and the Aesir deities may have first appeared. The battle for Sweden may have been between these two linguistic groups of Germans with their different deities. 

Eventually the People of Ingwaz (Frey) would become Angles and Jutes (among several others), so some Belgic deity devotees speak reconstructed Gaulish with an Old English accent. The Ingvaeones lived in modern Denmark, Holland, Frisia and Belgium. Agriculture in Denmark was rough going, because of the clay content in the soil. Until the iron plough, it was almost impossible to sow seeds. This may be the root of the important visits by the agricultural Goddess Nerthus, from whom all iron and weapons must be hid. Only iron could open Her. Nerthus comes from the ancient Celto-Germanic word for “power/ force” going back 4,000 years to around the Czech Republic. There was no Celtic or Germanic language yet, just a group of Indo-Europeans who suddenly changed the meanings of several words (such as string meaning sorcery and eventually seidR) and adopting words from Neolithic Old Europeans. These words contained the basics of Celtic and Germanic Pagan religion until Christianity replaced them: sacred grove, sovereign horse Goddess (Macha), battle crow Goddess (Badb), their little mentioned husbands, prophecy, poetic trance, werewolves, the waking dead, holly, angelica, and the roots of Lug/Odin. The meaning of priya, the root of Freya, changed to free person, such as Lady. (My personal guess is that Priya became Freya in the Istvaeones and Frigga in the Herminones.)

Because the soil of Denmark was difficult to plough without iron, it is very possible that some Germanic tribes did move south seeking better farmlands. 

If you are interest in the Belgae, check out the book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters and the in-progress website Senobessus Bolgon with its beautiful artwork.

Roman Imperial Bath, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

Trier became home to a large Gallo-Roman temple to the God of the Treveri, Lenus Mars. His shrine room was painted bright red, and a statue of Him with a Corinthian helmet holding shield and spear was the focus. Many other deities were also worshipped there. The temple complex boasted a theatre and sanctuary for pilgrims seeking healing.

The association with Mars was probably made by a Roman, although the Romans did seem to often allow natives to choose from the main Roman pantheon which deity best described their own God. For this reason, in some places the same Celtic Gods were associated with Mars, and in others with Mercury, showing that the correlation was not very direct or accurate. What a tribe knew about Roman mythology would depend on whom they met. What a Roman would have understood about a Celtic deity would have been limited as well. Roman artisans were hired to make naturalistic sculptures of the deities (not a Celtic tradition, who in both Britain and Gaul carved crude faces and genitalia in posts). Almost every Celtic God was portrayed with a shield and spear because that’s what Celtic leaders looked like; it tells us nothing of the function of the deity. The Celts held water as generally powerful and sacred, as an ancient tradition of offerings in rivers, bogs and lakes shows. Meanwhile, the Romans tended to associate rivers with healing centers. This means we can’t label Lenus simply as a war God or a healing deity.

If the warrior image and healing sanctuary are Roman standards, who was Lenus to the Treveri tribe? Probably a God who was their personal defender against other tribes, plagues, and any other disasters. He may have been seen as the father of the elite rulers like some other Celtic tribes seemed to do. He was almost certainly viewed as the tribe’s personal God who could do whatever was needed. The creator of Senobessus Bolgon believes that the Goddess Ancamcara was His spouse. Celtic people found it important for Gods to be paired with Goddesses, probably due to the proto-Indo-European belief that Goddesses are the actual soil and rivers of a place. A God without a Goddess was like a King without a land. The importance of Juno Regina, the Queen of the Roman pantheon, sitting next to Jupiter on the Jupiter columns associated with Taranus was probably to validate the God’s rule to the Southern Gauls. Romans had no problem worshipping Jupiter on His own.

From my first encounter with Lenus, I’ve been hoping that He’d return to His former glory. One might say I’m a fan. There are so many important Celtic deities that were very popular in ancient times whom I want to find their modern devotees. It’s one reason Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides accurate information about over 160 deities, and this website provides information about Germanic deities worshipped during the same time.  The Viking Age is the crumbling end of the Heathen era – I am far more interested in when Heathenry was at its greatest peak, tribes intact and living in traditional family ways. That the website Senobessus Bolgon was created when Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was published seems like a wonderful sign that people are being called to the frequently ignored continental Celtic deities!

Roman bridge, Trier, photo by Alexandra Rena

From a Roman bridge in Trier, Alexandra gave my offerings to the River Mosel. I’d picked them carefully and said prayers over them. Glass beads seemed most appropriate. If you have ever seen photographs of glass Gaulish jewellery, you might be a bit shocked by the lack of color coordination. It’s as though any color possible is added to a necklace. The Romans wrote about how garish Gaulish dress was, especially for the wealthy. The Celts did love color! It’s important to remember when looking at anything created before chemical dyes to understand how awe-inspiring mosaics, tapestries and gems or colored glass looked to ancient eyes. They would be like neon in a world of muted browns, greens and greys.

The Gauls and Celts in Iberia were famous for their fabrics. Gold was woven into the most expensive. They invented different weaving patterns used today. Geometric shapes from fabric, especially trim, possibly were the inspiration for the designs on metal accessories and pottery. A pot from Halstatt depicts women weaving in a very geometric design where the women are triangles made of small circles, the pattern of their dresses. The design was pushed into the clay with tools that created different size circles. Grave goods for the elite were wrapped in fabric of different colors creating patterns of diamonds, checks, stripes and plaid. Bright plaid and stripes, if one could afford it, were worn together. Images of Gaulish weddings seem to show the importance of the bride giving beautiful fabric to the groom. Celtic cloaks became an important trade good in the Roman Empire. Linen, the most common fabric, is not naturally white. It’s a beautiful light grey-green color, made darker if there is more rain. This, along with white (or sometimes black) wool (which is easier to dye than linen), was the color of most people’s clothing.

So a brightly colored bead, perhaps with a few bumps of another color dripped on it to make dots or eye patterns, stood out. Training our eyes to see the way the ancients did can help us appreciate the wonders of their world. If you get the opportunity to make glass beads I highly recommend you do it! Spinning the metal stick dipped in crushed glass in the flame of the blow torch, adding colors and creating shape, is a pretty spectacular activity.

The deities who received handmade Fair Trade or recycled glass beads in Trier were:

Nemetona’s name is based on a word changed by a group of Indo-Europeans about 4,000 years ago around the Czech Republic. Later, when discussing Nerthus, this will be expanded upon. At least one Celtic and one Germanic tribe took their names from this word, nemeton, meaning “sacred grove.” If Nemetona was worshipped in northwest Gaul is unclear, because nemeton is such a common word, but it seems likely that She was. In Southern Britain we know She was, paired with the Roman God of war Mars. This makes sense, as Mars (like many war Gods) didn’t live in the city of Rome even though He was their patron deity. Because war destroys civilian life, Mars and His temple stayed along the border. He protected the boundaries of farms as well, causing some to assume He’s an agricultural deity, when He consistently appears as a warrior at the edges of society. War deities often need to have some of the same wildness that they battle. Pairing Mars with a Goddess of wild groves separated from towns allowed Him to retain His wild nature. This Roman view of Mars does not fit well with Lenus whose temple was in the center of Treveri territory, showing how poorly Roman interpretation sometimes fit with the Celts, whose Gods usually were good at everything. 

Another big site for offerings was the head of the Danube River in Baden-Wurtemberg. On the shore in the photo below Alexandra made my offerings to Erecura, Telesphorus, Taranus, Abnoba, Epona and the Germanic Goddesses the Campestres (of the parade ground), Cernunnos, and Dis Pater.

The confluence of Breg & Brigach, creating the Danube River, photo by Alexandra Rena

In Munich, more of my ancestors received offerings, along with our Celtic/German God of the Batavians Magusanus. Germanic Goddess Hariasa received Her offerings in Cologne.

Copenhagen, founded by my ancestor Sweyn Forkbeard, received offerings to my ancestors, the Goddess Gefjion “the giving one” who has a statue in Her honor, plus my ancestors of the People of Ingvi who became the Angles, Jutes, Frisians and more, and Nerthus. I suspect that as Germanic tribes known to aid certain Gaulish tribes worshipped Nerthus, She had a following in the Belgae region and it influenced the Celts who had Belgae contact. God of commerce and transporting goods, Njord, received His offerings here as well, in the city named the merchants’ harbor. Alexandra made the offering at Mons Klint, with an auspicious rainbow!

Ingvi-Frey received a tusk of a young boar I’d bought from a Latvian who’d brought and sold Soviet Era collections. I received Latvian amber beads from him as well, which were included. (All offerings were well washed in biodegradable soap and baking soda and the tusk was from the 1970s, so I wouldn’t inadvertently pass some invasive species to Denmark. This is why no seeds, grains, dried herbs etc were included.) In the Prose Edda Snorri calls Njord and Frey diar which is a Gaelic word for God. It’s about Their role of making the sacrifices as Priests (along with Freya), something I find very curious. Who were the Gods sacrificing to? I suspect Snorri misunderstood something about the worship or roles of the Vanir.

Møns Klint, south of Copenhagen, photo by Alexandra Rena

In the bird sanctuary Moelle with its Stone Age circles and grave mounds on the Swedish coast, more offerings were made to my ancestors and deities! Of course, Freya received amber and glass beads. I had some beads made from the bones of a wooly mammoth for the really ancient ancestors from before the Indo-European people’s culture arrived. Possible Vanir deities received gifts, like Freya’s daughter Hnoss (Freya as a mother is rarely acknowledged), the ancient Swedish God UllR and his probable sister-lover twin Ullinn whose name lives on in Swedish places even if Snorri never heard of Her, their mother Sif “relative by marriage” (to the Aesir?), and Heimdall who lights up the world like an Indo-European Sky Father God, recovered Freya‘s necklace when Odin made Loki steal it, and may be connected to Freya via her name Mardoll

An interesting note on Heimdall: Although I sometimes feel Him to be the son of the nine waves, the dangerous daughters of Jotuns Aegir and Ran, the lists we have of His mothers’ names are not of those Goddesses. Like most Norse deities, I suspect Heimdall was the ruling God for a federation of tribes before the literary creation of the Eddas. As there was no formal, unified Norse Priesthood – or unified Norse anything  – various regions would have had their own mythology. It never actually says Heimdall is the son of the waves anywhere, but that He has nine mothers is consistent. His mothers’ names like Ulfrun and Ird link Him to wolves, Jarnsaxa and Atla link him to battle, while Thor killed two others. As all the names of His mothers are found elsewhere and sometimes seem to be generic names for Jotun women, I suspect that we’ve lost their real names. However, that Heimdall comes from a cosmology where nine ancient Jotun women birthed Him to have the power of earth, power of the cold sea, and the power of the boar (a Vanir sign?), nine mothers giving Him great power, is established. This fits with His role as the creator of the class system as Rig, a Celtic word for King. Rig actually becomes the name of the son of the highest class, who learns the runes from the God, which I understand to mean that the ruling class claimed descent from this deity. This is hardly unusual, as Frey is father of my ancestors, the Yngling dynasty. Odin probably was not part of these people’s origin myth, since Rig taught them the runes. As the deities are much more than our concepts of Them, I doubt Heimdall cares what mothers we name, as long as They are nine deadly, powerful Jotun women. He’s sometimes identified as the actual World Tree itself, and having nine mothers – one for each world – may have helped encourage that interpretation. Like UllR, Heimdall appears to be older than the Eddas’ cosmology, and so we need to remember the importance of regional, tribal religion. Perhaps when His worship reached people who knew of Aegir, His mothers were understood as Aegir‘s daughters. As Rig was already on a beach, I would hazard a guess that He led the pantheon of a tribe descended from the North Sea Ingvaeones. 

 

Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available directly from Gullveig Press at a lower price than at Amazon. All proceeds go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans. We have special bulk order and prison clergy/ volunteer prices and Australian discounts, as Amazon Australia does not carry the book. We will happily buy a prisoner a copy if you donate $12 U.S.! And remember to donate used paperbacks on almost any topic to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners ability to read per book!

 

Moelle, photo by Alexandra Rena

 

 

 

 

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